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It's A Family Affair: MBAs Set To Take Over Business Empires

Family businesses have always played a major role in the global economy. The next generation of family business leaders are turning to MBA programs to give their brands an edge.

Wed Feb 12 2014

There is a pocket of the MBA community that is set to take over companies that have been in business for decades. There are a few who will inherit established empires and sleek operations, and they are turning to business school to equip themselves for the challenges that lie ahead.

If today’s business school students are tomorrows business leaders, then the minority that enter family firms are, perhaps, already set for life. But these aren’t necessarily your archetype slackers, college drop-outs surviving on their parents’ success.

There are those that have an easier ride, but the vast majority of MBAs with surnames that smack of high-street brands want to earn the right to run family business empires, and work just as hard as peers to see them succeed.

And despite an element of discretion, family businesses have always played a major role in the global economy. The Family Firm Institute, an association for professionals serving the family enterprise field, estimates that family businesses create up between 70 and 90 per cent of global GDP annually.

In the United States, those companies comprise around 80 per cent of all business enterprises. In Europe, family firms represent 75 per cent of all businesses and employ half the work force – and in Finland and Estonia, a staggering 90 per cent of companies are categorized as family businesses.

What’s more, these family-run empires are often considered more resilient in times of economic instability. According to the Family Business Review, in the US, more than 30 per cent will survive long enough to see the business taken over by the second-generation. When you consider that three out of four of some start-ups in the States fail, these are encouraging statistics.

Those who have worked in their family’s business often turn to MBA programs to develop leadership skills, says Santiago Hoyos, a student at ESSEC Business School and vice-president of his family’s manufacturing services company.

“I had a sense that I needed to acquire more skills in order to optimize the opportunities of the company. I wanted to learn how to manage people and incentivize them,” he says.

Santiago’s grandfather founded their company, San Lorenzo S.A, around 40 years ago. They began in the automotive sector, supplying parts, but the production has shifted to new products in the gardening industry as well as small engines which are used in lawnmowers.

He joined his father at the company, based in Bogotá in Colombia, in 2009 after studying economics. He started out in an assistant manager’s position before becoming international commerce director, managing customers and some procurement in the US, Europe, and Latin America.

After being promoted to vice president, Santiago decided to brush up his business skills with the Global MBA Program. ESSEC, a top MBA ranking university in France, was a logical choice. “The program has a focus on entrepreneurship and emerging markets, which was a good fit for me,” he says.

“We have an established way of doing things at the company and I wanted to learn what the world is shifting to, and bring this knowledge back to propel the company to the next stage. ESSEC has given me that.”

For other MBAs who have worked in family-run firms, it’s not always assumed they will follow in their family’s footsteps after graduation, says Jonathan Seeyave, a Global MBA student at ESSEC. “First, I want to find a job to get some more experience in management or finance,” he says.

Jonathan’s late grandfather also started his family’s business back in 1952, based in Mauritius. He began by selling ice-cream, before moving into frozen foods on a larger scale and the company eventually became known as Happy World Group. Today, it has a retail arm, shipping services, document managing services and a commercial property business.

Jonathan was in the latter for about eight years. “But it wasn’t assumed that I would enter the company,” he explains. “I worked in Japan at the time and I hadn’t been in Mauritius for a large part of my life; I left when I was ten to study in England.

“So I wanted to discover the family business and get in touch with my family again.” Several years down the line and an MBA is his way of building a skill-set to eventually take back to the company. “It gives you an all-round set of skills for any business and really does develop those skills,” he says.

“You can take it back to the family firm and see how it can develop or enhance the business.”

But he hopes to work independently in industry immediately after graduation. And this is beneficial for anyone seeking to one day run family operations, agrees Santiago. “Right now my ambition would be to work in business development here in France,” he says.

“I’d like to place myself perhaps in the automotive sector, develop a network and always be on the lookout for business opportunities for my company, before going back to Columbia at some point.

“I want to learn about the entrepreneurial culture here. It’s good to learn from outside [your country] so that I can, in the future, bring the knowledge back with me to Colombia.”

Jonathan has similar ambitions. He admits he’d like to run his family’s company one day, but in the meantime an MBA from ESSEC and some work in Europe or in emerging markets are his next career steps.  

“Or I want to at least play an important role in the company or provide guidance,” he adds, “as well as establish the vision of the company, of where we are now and where we want to go.”

It’s that ambition that is driving the next generation of family business leaders. 

Student Reviews

ESSEC Business School




On Campus

The best intercultural university

There are more than 50 nationality in the grade, so there are opportunities to interact with people from all around the world. In terms of academics, the BBA course offers diverse courses for the 1st




On Campus

Creativity, adaptability and entrepreneurship

The Master in Management program at the ESSEC Business School allows the students to choose their courses accordingly to their preferences and their professional targets. We can also go through international exchange and take part in internships with companies that are also partners with the school. The school is also next to the city of Paris.




On Campus

Top business school in France

Doing PhD in essec took some time, to be precise about five years. But the experience was very good and cost effective too. There are opportunities for the student for teaching assistantship and that helps both financially and in career. In the final year I could manage to teach marketing to M1 students and this helped shape my career




On Campus

Great college

The program is well suited for early professionals with an engineering degree preferably or a degree in economics. I would suggest taking the ceasure irrespective of the experience level as it helps you take your time to adjust to the job market.





Good school in France

I am currently enrolled in M2 in Essec business school. I am specialising in marketing management. The Grande Ecole programme is valued in France and my school ranks very high up. There are a lot of opportunities for internships and CDD.




The program curriculum

BBA program. The program is really practical and useful, provide us many international opportunities. Like internship and humanitarian experience, and the flexibility is also really cool, we can choose different campus and tracks as we want.




International Course

This school is very international and business oriented. Highly recognized by the companies The campus has been renovated and is very functional and modern from now on. Excellent atmosphere. Reputation of essec is a plus




Friends, Career opportunities.

The program I did gave me the opportunity to start in Singapore. I got the chance to know all the students that started there and we bonded and made some friends for life. The career opportunities that ESSEC also gave me were unbelievable.




Practical and useful

I think the best thing about Essec is that it's not focusing on academics rather it emphasizes on future job mindset and professional experiences.. The classes are interesting and we have plenty of workshops attributing to different sectors.. The campus is very nice with a good cafe and wonderful library. The only problem is the location of the campus. It's quite far from Paris.




On Campus

Amazing experience! Must try

I think its a very amazing school with great and experienced faculty. Also the alumni network is very solid and useful. The school has a great balance of studies and work experience which is really essential for a student.




On Campus

GBBA: Diverse, Enriching, and Career-Boosting

My experience at ESSEC Business School has been outstanding. The Global BBA program offers a rich academic curriculum and diverse learning opportunities. I appreciated the chance to study on different campuses, including an international exchange, which broadened my perspective. The social environment is culturally diverse and vibrant, enhancing both my personal and professional growth. The administration is attentive, constantly offering new academic and student life opportunities. The campus facilities and classrooms are excellent. I highly recommend ESSEC for its excellence, global exposure, and career opportunities.




On Campus


The English track BBA program at ESSEC is simply exceptional. Courses are taught by internationally renowned professors who are experts in their field. The subjects taught cover a wide range of disciplines from marketing to finance, strategy and entrepreneurship. The English track is a major asset because it allows you to develop perfect mastery of professional English, essential in today's globalized business world. Some students love student life at Essec, which is one of the best in France, but it all depends on taste.




On Campus

Great program, incredible school

I love almost everything about this school, from the student life to the academic program and the opportunities it provides. I'm currently at the Paris campus, in Cergy, and I'm really enjoying it. The BBA program is very rich and diversified, you can start with geopolitics and then finance, what I mean is that there's a great balance between the subjects in this program. I was also lucky enough to spend a semester at the Singapore campus, and I loved that experience on the other side of the world. ESSEC is also known for its dynamic and rich student life, with access to several parties a week and the various associations within the school. If I could recommend just one school, it would be this one - I'm 100% satisfied.